Revisiting the Boston Bombings

It all began on April 15, 2013, when two homemade pressure-cooker bombs hidden in backpacks exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others. A four-day-long manhunt eventually smoked out the alleged perpetrators 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his 19-year-old brother, Dzhokhar, who eventually tried to flee by killing a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer named Sean Collier and then hijacking a black Mercedes SUV as a getaway vehicle. But the pair soon were cornered by authorities, and Tamerlan was killed in the confrontation. Dzhokhar managed to escape, but was taken into custody after he was discovered hiding in a boat in the backyard of a home in the Boston suburb of Watertown.

Not quite two years later, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is on trial in a federal courthouse in Boston, where he faces 30 federal charges, 17 of which carry the death penalty as a possible sentence. At roughly the halfway point in the trial, the pace of a proceeding that was expected to last months has been accelerated by the defense attorney Judy Clarke’s startling admission in her opening statement that her client—despite his plea of not guilty—had, in fact, committed the crimes. “It was him,” said Clarke, who described the tragedy as being “caused by a series of horribly misguided acts carried out by two brothers.” The apparent defense strategy is to convince jurors to spare Tsarnaev’s life by convincing them that he was led astray by a manipulative, domineering older brother, who had become an Islamic extremist.

Nevertheless, federal prosecutors have spent the past several weeks laying out evidence that links Tsarnaev to the bombings and related crimes, including surveillance video footage that shows him at the scene of the attacks, and a bullet-pockmarked message that a wounded Tsarnaev scrawled in pencil on the inside of the boat, in which he said that he was jealous of his brother for being a martyr to the cause, and said the attack was retaliation because “the U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians.” They’re expected to complete the government case this week, according to news reports.

If you’re trying to follow the trial, National Geographic Channel’s interactive map and timeline of the Boston Marathon attack and manhunt provides a refresher on the sequences of events, from the first explosion on 2:49 PM on Boylston Street in Boston and the second blast 183 yards away, which followed 12 seconds later. It gives a particularly detailed account of law enforcement officers’ pursuit of Tsarnaev in the early morning hours of Friday, and the door-to-door search that followed until he was captured in Watertown at about 6 p.m., to the relief of Boston-area residents who’d been on lockdown.

Another article on the site, “How They Identified the Bombers,” lays out one of the most remarkable investigations in law enforcement history, in which investigators started out without likely suspects or an apparent motive, and were forced to sift through the recollections of witnesses, a thousands of pieces of physical evidence from the blast, and vast amounts of video and still photos. In the first day of the investigation, they compiled an astonishing 10 terabytes of data—enough to fill the hard-drives of 10 high-end laptop computers.  Yet another piece, “Facts About the Boston Marathon Bombings,” provides an array of useful context, such as why the bombers placed nails in the pressure-cooker bombs, and the number of runners—17,600, about 75 percent of the starters—who managed to finish the race. Finally, “The Media’s Manhunt” details how the 24-hour news cycle and the advent of social media both helped and hindered the investigation.

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